S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Lucky you.
S2: Good for your prudent, prudent approach here. Do you think that I should contact him again? No help. Thanks. Thank you.
S1: Hello and welcome back to The Dear Prudence Show once again, and as always, I am your host, Dear Prudence, also known as Daniel M. Lavery. And with me in the studio this week is Sarah Jaffe, the author of Work Won’t Love You Back How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps US Exploited, Exhausted and Alone and Necessary Trouble. Americans in Revolt, both from bull type books. She’s also the co-host with Michelle Chen of Dissent magazine’s Belaboured podcast. Sarah, welcome to the show.
S3: Hello. Thank you for having me.
S1: Thank you so, so much. I now, of course, I’m just like, why didn’t I save all of the work questions for you? But I didn’t. I only have some more questions for you and we’re just going to have to live with that.
S3: Yeah, it’ll be fine. It’ll be fine. I’ve been talking about work enough lately.
S1: Yeah. And even if it out fine, I have to do another show next week so I can have a new problem by that, which will be great. I’m doing great. You’re doing great. How are you. How’s your work treating you.
S3: Uh, it’s, it’s still work. You know, the fun thing about this is like when this book first dropped, everybody was like, do you have advice? And I was like, and the capitalist mode of production. And they were like, but individual advice. And I was like, work is a political problem. That’s my individual advice. And so now I’m here to give individual advice for all of those people who have very specific questions.
S1: Great to have a sort of like handy quote, which is just like, well, that’s what’s going to solve the problems. And then, you know, all I can think is like a little like Milhouse Van Houten voice, but like, that’s all very well and good for sheep. But what are we to do? Which of course I say that and I realize that was taught in Robert Flanders. My apologies to anyone who grew up in the nineties. But, yeah, you know, what do we do now when I do still have to deal with this problem today? This first question, you know, subject line is trying to help. And I certainly get that. I think we can help this person be more helpful than there being at presence. And so I’m very, very eager to just get started right away. Do some damage control sound good?
S3: Yes. Would you read it? Yes. So the subject line is indeed trying to help. Dear Prudence. I have a partner who I’ve been with for a while. I love them, but I have an issue. I feel constantly stuck on their undocumented and so they can’t find as many opportunities for themselves. I try to be in their shoes and understand how they might feel. While it is hard to find opportunities, it’s not impossible. They constantly complain that their life is meaningless. I know this to be false because they are very smart and talented, who obviously have a lot to offer and have seen many undocumented people that I know strive and not see their citizenship as a default to their success. I’m aware that this isn’t the case for everyone, but I do see true potential within them. I just want them to be happy and not be somewhere they don’t want to be. What can I do to help them realize their own abilities as their partner? How can I help them find opportunities and not let them dismiss it?
S1: Do you think this letter writer is asking the right questions? I think that’s where I want to start because I don’t think that they’re asking the right questions.
S3: I don’t even think they’re being clear about the questions they’re asking. I think the word opportunity is means jobs, right? I’m assuming that that’s what we’re talking about here.
S1: Yeah, but that, again, that was that was open ended. Like, do you mean that they have a day job they don’t like and you think they should be in a better job? Do you mean they don’t have a job that’s bringing in money at all and you want them to get one? Do you mean you want them to be more involved in civic engagement? You want them to do more community theater? Like what’s the what’s the thing.
S3: Yeah, what is what is an opportunity.
S1: Yeah. You know, my thought there too is like what can I do to help them realize their own abilities? I can definitely see where there might also be a conversation to be had here about your relative relationships to professional ambition or how much time and energy you would like to dedicate to your work lives. But before you can do that, this isn’t a question of like your partner doesn’t believe in themselves enough. This is a question of like. Practical, logistical. Reality, safety, so, you know, if you want to ask questions like how can I help get my partner like legal representation or seek advice about protecting themselves or potentially attempting to apply for citizenship or simply know their rights as they already do or can exist. Those are good questions to be asking. But it’s not just a question of like if you believe in yourself enough, you won’t be at risk for like exploitation or an ice raid because that’s those won’t happen because you don’t believe in yourself enough. Those things happen because you’re targeted by the government, you know.
S3: Yeah. No, this this question is hitting me like right where I’ve been really irritated for, like, the last month and a half of the pandemic, which is like I have lost all patients for Instagram platitudes. Of like self-love and believe and all of this crap, and I’m like material reality is material reality and I can’t wish it away. And right now it currently sucks. And if you are undocumented in this country, it still sucks. And I’m sorry, it still sucks under Joe Biden. They’re still deporting people, even though there’s supposedly a moratorium on it, though, the reality that this person lives with I am going to go out on a limb and say they know better than they’re documented, presumably American citizen partner.
S1: Yeah, I think that was one place where I really wanted to encourage the letter writer to recognize their partners expertise, not just view it all as your pessimism. You know, there may also be conflicting worldviews that are only semi related. But I think one of the things letter writer that you need to be aware of in yourself is that your approach here, which is that, you know, hey, difficult if not impossible. Look at all these other examples. I know some other undocumented people who have gotten jobs. Sorry. And I don’t mean to say that, like, lightly or flippantly, I was attempting to characterize what I feel like as the letter writers attitude, but I don’t necessarily want to throw that language around really casually. I want you, letter writer, to be able to think of that kind of model of it’s just a question of like resilience. Stick to it. Liveness and trying again is something that has been informed by your life as a person whose citizenship is presumably, you know, safely documented and has not been threatened. So, again, that’s not to say like you’ve been living in a fantasy world and your partner has been living in the real world. But to me, this does not just seem like, oh, your partner just doesn’t have, like, their head on straight. They need to, like, stop being, like, so bummed out about the world. Like if their entire experience of life growing up has has had to do with attempting to navigate a society that has constant, constant barriers to getting anything done because you don’t have the right paperwork, they may very well have experienced the number of times I tried really, really fucking hard. And it didn’t pan out for me through something incredibly arbitrary that I have no power over. And it’s just like. They’re not making that up. That’s not just a mental attitude. You know, think of that as expertise as much as you can. I think,
S3: yes. And we live in a world where the workplace sucks for people who have every possible privilege. Right. You can try very, very, very hard and work very, very, very hard and still get nowhere, because that’s actually what capitalism is designed to do. It’s designed to have a few people at the top and a lot of us at the bottom on purpose. And so you can’t. Yeah, you can’t sort of hope and wish your way out of this and there might be material things again you can do and you can help with for your partner that you know, I don’t know. Again, opportunities is such a I just keep returning to it as a euphemism for for, again, what we presume are jobs, I
S1: assume buy into the American dream or something I feel like is one of the standard
S3: for I’m assuming that the opportunities you’re offering are not like I got them an immigration lawyer and made the appointment and paid for it and they turned it down. I’m assuming you’re like, here’s a job listing that you should apply for. You know, I’m I’m assuming that’s all right. And so. Yeah, what can you do to help them? What help are they asking for, what help do they need really that will actually make it easier for them to do what they want to do? And, you know, when they say their life is meaningless, like, that’s really painful to hear. Somebody you love say, I understand that. I want to be like I believe that you love your partner. Absolutely. I believe that you want to help letter writer. I just want. When you hear somebody say that, like ask follow up questions, why do they believe their life is meaningless? Is it because they don’t have a job that they love or is it because they’re watched, you know, the presidential administrations change and the new president is still deporting people who look like them? What is it? We are in a year or two now of a global pandemic where we can’t see people that we care about. And if your partner has family who live in another country, presumably they have no idea when they might see them. Like there are a lot of things that might contribute to feeling meaningless other than just like they don’t have a job.
S1: Yeah, yeah. I think I would add to that. I think curiosity is good. I would let Aerator stop. I don’t know if you’ve been bringing it up to your partner. If you just think about this in your own head, if you have been bringing up, hey, I know other people who are undocumented and now have their own like Fortune 500 company. Stop bringing that up. It’s just I don’t know how that could possibly be helpful to your partner. It doesn’t seem like it’s helped you understand your partner any better. I would simply, you know, let go of the desire to force a connection there. Just say I know some people, I know some other people. You know, not everyone is in the exact same set of circumstances. And it just doesn’t do, I think, a whole lot of good to say, like, you know, look at these other people who have great jobs. OK, good for them. You know, what are we sheep to do as as Rob Flanders might say. So there’s that. Yeah. And then I think, you know, is your partner asking for help? Do you want to solve this problem because it makes you uncomfortable when someone says their life is meaningless. Have you asked your partner what they might want from you in those moments? Have you you know, I guess like, what are you doing in your life writ large? You know, you say it sounds like, you know, a lot of people who, you know, whose citizenship is not legally documented. It sounds like you have lots of strong relationships with people who are in those positions in your life. Do you do you do anything about that? Like, you know, do you do you dedicate any of your time or your energy or your resources towards any kind of broader political action that helps to protect and, you know, support people who are undocumented? That might be one really good outlet for some of these fears and concerns, rather than trying to make sure that your partner, you know, goes on Shark Tank someday. Is like find ways to meaningfully support I mean, there’s there’s real ways you can meaningfully, illegally support people in you know, people in these positions need legal help. You know, they need there’s lots that can be done to, you know, sorry to use the word material over and over again, but like trying to really help people. And then beyond that, I do want to just throw out their. I think it will be good for you to try to solve their problem less and to listen a little bit more. I also want to say let a writer, if you find that you just can’t get past this and you and your partner have wildly different approaches to problem solving, that you can find ways to respect both of your positions. But there’s just drives you nuts. You are also allowed to break up. I just want to throw that out there. You don’t say that you’re necessarily on the verge of doing so tomorrow. But while I do want to encourage you to be more supportive to your partner, where you can also just want to say you two might just find you have ultimately kind of incompatible ways of looking at the world and you’ve sort of reached your natural dating expiration point. That is also OK. It is not like, oh, no, you’re like letting down the community if you don’t keep dating forever, you’re also allowed to say, like, well, I wish you the best. I’ve been a little overbearing, but you also kind of drive me nuts and I want to date somebody else.
S3: Fine. Absolutely. Fine. Yeah. Your partner is not a project that you are working on for your own, you know, feeling like being a good ally. Your partner is a person that you should be with because you love them and that. Yeah, that’s that’s what I think.
S1: Yeah. And just, you know, any time somebody wants to commit themselves to the project of, like, not only convincing their partner to radically, like, change the way that they see the world, but also radically overhaul their relationship to professional ambition, it’s just like. Haven’t seen a lot of that. You know, I just if I heard from a lot of people who had successfully done that, I would run those letters. I promise you, it does not seem like when people do seriously change or overhaul their lives, that it’s because a partner really hammered that point home for a long time. And then they were like, great idea. I’ll get
S3: on that. You know, in my my experience of, you know, being a straight girl who’s tried to fix a lot of men, it’s never worked
S1: as a it’s a sort of soft middle transsexual who has tried to change a couple of men myself. I also was not great. The only man I could change was me. Cue the music. Terrible. Thank you. OK, this next letter I’m so glad it’s my turn to read is long, and it used to be longer. I’m going to make a lot of
S3: faces while you read it, but nobody you’re hearing the podcast can hear the
S1: classics like my partner is involved in PDM. Plus some bad stuff has happened in the past.
S3: It’s probably why I write another letter about trying to change your partner to
S1: such a classic like 80s misunderstanding to like. I didn’t know there were still people out there who are like, do you think that you like BDM because, you know, because you’ve suffered
S3: just like
S1: surely, surely we’ve we’ve passed that stage.
S3: I blame the movie secretary for all of this. By the way, that is my real hot take on this. That movie, sorry to lovers of Maggie Gyllenhaal. That movie really made me mad on this subject.
S1: I remember there was like a fun movie or there was a fun scene where she got to like you, a lot of English peas. And she wore a lot of really nice pencil skirt. She did a lot. And I liked James Spader and that’s kind of all I remember. It just seemed like everybody was having a nice time wearing funny outfits and eating peas or not eating peas. I think maybe there’s a scene where she doesn’t eat peas. I don’t remember.
S3: I had a lot a lot of feelings about how the movie starts off. And she’s a cell farmer and then she gets into her BDM relationship with James Spader, and that somehow stops her from being sad and depressed and self farming. And I am like, maybe we could see these two things as not actually a continuum. Anyway, we should talk about the letter.
S1: Well, the nice thing is it’s a movie about pretend people so you don’t have to like you don’t have to believe anything. You can just be like, oh, look at those interesting things that happened to that lady in the nice skirts. And that’s my theories on the film. So past dramas, Dear Prudence movies are just movies. It’s fine. I’m a 46 year old man who has been dating a 32 year old woman for about ten months. We met on an app just before the lockdown’s began. We live in the same small city but don’t have the same social circles. We talked for twelve hours on our first date. Since then, I’ve learned a little bit more about her relationship history, and it involves a lot of abuse and assault from strangers, classmates, older men, friends and boyfriends. Her most recent partner was physically abusive. There were other healthy sounding relationships mixed in there to add to this history that she says she’s been into some level of PTSD in thirteen years. However, she doesn’t seem willing to consider what relevance this preference might have on her past traumas. Although I recognize BDM is a perfectly healthy choice, I would think only if past trauma has been addressed. Her experience prompted me to read about it, where I learned that sex that reminds her of the rape can be a negative trigger. And for survivors with unaddressed trauma, there can be a need to recreate rapes. Where did you read that, my good man? What book did you pick up and just set as little nice foundation for your new world? Yes, I have grown concerned about whether she’s worked through her past traumas. She went through school mandated therapy, but says she didn’t find it helpful. Now, she doesn’t really like therapy and prefers to essentially compartmentalize these past experiences. I’ve also begun to question whether our age difference signals that our relationship is somehow a product of all those past traumatic ones. On the other hand, we also enjoy one another’s company. And I get the impression that my acceptance of her body’s ups and downs and my interest in her personal growth is something new for her that she likes but is still adjusting to every month or two. She mentions that her latest ex has intermittently texted her, and lately she’s replied, he started by texting her an offer of a trip. He knows she loves to take trips, then a photo of the puppy they used to share, at which point we talked about the contact. I told her I thought he was just trying to get her to engage for his own selfish reasons and that her best response would be silence. She said she told him about us. He then sent her a care package of his cannabis products to help her with stress. After she was laid off. And most recently, he contacted her about some unimportant thing. She didn’t specify what that led to an exchange about picking stocks. She doesn’t exactly hi these interactions, but she drops them into conversations casually enough that I could miss it if I weren’t listening carefully. I’m not the kind of person who gets jealous. I also don’t think it’s right for me to tell her who she can talk to. But something about this feels off to me. It’s wrong of him because he seems to be doing it to fill his own void and wrong for her, because this contact with an abuser suggests the lack of something self-esteem, a sense of self-preservation, something not healthy. I don’t know how to approach her about it. Also, I know I don’t have the knowledge or language to explain why I think it’s wrong. And I don’t want to make her feel bad or like I’m criticizing her. As I attempt to explain myself. I also have to wonder what this means for our long term future. I don’t think I’m equipped to help her and she seems resistant to therapy. Even if we could figure out the right kind of therapist. I don’t know how these traumas might manifest themselves over time. I just want you to know I said that I edited this down a lot and I did, but yes, I can confirm the stocks he is talking about was the goddamn GameStop thing. Somehow I was involved around the edges with that whole GameStop bubble.
S3: Oh, my God. That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.
S1: Yeah. I mean, where do you wanna start? I mean, you wanna start with games. Start with you mad at Maggie Gyllenhaal, who
S3: seems like a nice lady. I mean, right there is the the BDM pathologies Asian place to start. There is the like how do I help her once again? Has she asked for your help? My dude has she asked does she want to be helped or does she just want to be your girlfriend.
S1: Yeah, I mean that was the thing that felt really the biggest question to me, because the thing at the end that really gave me pause was I don’t know how these traumas might manifest themselves over time. So he doesn’t say, like, you know, she she said or did something in our relationship that really freaked me out or that really troubled me or that’s really affecting me. And she doesn’t seem to be able to get a handle on it. It’s it’s just a little bit more like she’s been through a lot. And that feels like a lot for me to think about. And I’m sort of worried that she’s apparently going to like want me to do something about it in the future. So that to me, again, without being too hard on you letter writer, because it’s clear that you really care about her, I think really be careful about what’s being asked of you versus what makes you uncomfortable, because if you just hear that you’re with someone who has been raped or assaulted, you know, that makes sense, that that is sad and uncomfortable to hear. But it doesn’t mean that you’re being asked to do anything. It just means you’re hearing about something sad and painful.
S3: Yeah. And it, as we are being reminded once again by the news cycle, has happened to a whole lot of people. So it’s not like this is the first time you’ve been with a woman who’s been abused. It’s just maybe the first time one has felt comfortable telling you about it.
S1: Yeah. And I yeah, I don’t want to do the like, you know, every woman has had the same experience or like all the women in your life have gone through this exact same suite of experiences. They’re just not telling you. But yeah, I do think if you date women. Just statistically speaking, you probably already know some women who have been assaulted or raped or harmed, they also know some men who have been assaulted and raped and harmed. And so while it does sound like she has definitely been through a lot, I do also think it will be helpful to recalibrate, not like this woman is a shocking outlier, so much as this is perhaps one of the first times one of the people I’m close to who has been raped or assaulted has wanted to take me into their confidence, which again, I don’t say to be like you must have been an asshole. It’s awful. It’s fine. If not, everybody wants to make those disclosures. So so please don’t think that that’s an indicator of like you were behaving badly before and only now are you being let into the inner circle. Just if this is one of your first times consciously being close to somebody who’s been raped and assaulted and harmed, it is new for you and a lot of ways. And so give yourself some time and patience to make adjustments, but also be really careful if a moment flags for you. As one where you feel really uncomfortable, ask yourself, is anything actually being asked of me or am I simply adjusting to a new kind of reality? Is this an incredibly, like, uncommon thing that has never happened to anyone else? Or is this something that actually happens fairly often but doesn’t get talked about a lot where I might be able to seek out some more like resources of my own to kind of contend with my new understanding of something that was sort of already there. I just didn’t think about it too much. And again, I don’t want to be like, you know, welcome to the party, asshole. Like everyone else was thinking about it. And like, you know, I think that can be a really weird and punitive way of, like, talking to somebody who’s like, it’s good if you haven’t been assaulted. I’m really glad I want that for more people. But yeah, you do really want to be careful. I understand why you’re a little worried about the renewed contact with her ex. That makes sense. I also understand you might have some thoughts or feelings or questions just after hearing a lot of detail about the ways in which she has experienced harm and interpersonal relationships that make sense to no fault for you there. But do do proceed with caution when you kind of go to the well of like, well, doesn’t this just mean she’s a ticking time bomb? And unless she’s safely stowed away in therapy, I might someday have to, like, fix her? I think going down that that mental path is is going to create unnecessary problems for you. And it doesn’t seem like that’s what she’s trying to do.
S3: Yeah, I think one of the things that that happens when you’re in a relationship with somebody for a long time is you find out about all of the fucked up things that have happened to them. And that will yeah, that will happen over time. There will be moments where what has happened to in the past probably affect her. If you stay together for a long time, that’s a thing. But that doesn’t mean that every other thing that she does is therefore a facet of her past trauma. That doesn’t mean that her being with somebody who is older mean like you’re both adults. She’s in her 30s. You’re she’s not like a teenager that you are. I mean, we would have a whole bunch of different responses if you were forty five and she was seventeen.
S1: But I would have the one response. I think, you know, just just one turn your location on. Yeah. Again, like it’s it’s I’m reluctant here too because I think as goofy as the whole like oh do you like BDM because of all your trauma stuff can be. I think it’s also a little goofy to sort of do the whole like it has nothing to do with it. It’s just like any kind of like dress up or fun. It’s like going to a renaissance fair. And it’s just like I don’t really like it’s fun. It’s a fun, weird accutron. You can pile on top of sex, you know, even traumatized people deserve the chance to have fun. Weird BDM sex. So I would just say, like, worry a lot less about what might or might not cause someone’s interest in BDM and just sort of stick with the thing you already know, which is it’s fine to do BDM stuff if you want to. But, you know, if your whole thing is like it’s only OK if you’ve totally worked through your traumas, like what would working through? I mean, you know, that’s one of those things where, like for all I’m always like, go to therapy, go to therapy. Snowman’s people use like therapeutic language. And I’m just like, what the fuck is that supposed to mean? Like, what the fuck is working through your trauma? Like, what the hell. Like I understand what. You know, adopting healthy behaviors with a partner looks like I have a sense of what that looks like. I have a sense of like setting aside special time to, like, cry and rage and like, you know, engage in like mental flights of fancy that you need some supervision or, you know, somebody to kind of ground you throughout. But like, what the hell would it look like to work through all of these traumas? Like, would you be graduating from them? Would you not think about them anymore? Would she just, like, have no more self-esteem problems? Would she just be like, look, in health? You know, like, I guess what I would say is like I wonder if some of that has to do with certain, like, fantasies of wholeness as opposed to assumptions about the brokenness that people often want to assign to someone who has been through trauma and needs help. I think sometimes the general response is like, wow, you’re really broken. And it’s sometimes it’s a little bit more like as a society, we don’t want to give you the assistance that you need. And so what we would like to do is say that your needs are unreasonable or outrageous. And in fact, it’s just like sounds like a lot of work. It would be really easier if we just said, like, wow, traumatized people seem crazy.
S3: And if somebody else can do that work like a therapist
S1: or, you know, maybe no one can, maybe you’re just broken and it’s just like, hmm.
S3: But I also like, you know, it’s OK. A letter writer if you are not into Bredasdorp. Yeah. Like, that’s fine. You are allowed to say, like, this makes me uncomfortable like that. That’s fine. You get to have that discussion and be like, I don’t feel comfortable doing X, Y, Z thing that your partner might be into. That’s fine. We all have those negotiations in sexual relationships. That’s like that’s totally OK. What is not OK is B like is to two pathologies. It then it’d be like, OK, so I don’t want to. Hit you in the face? OK, that is not a step to I don’t want to do this, hence it must be a reflection of something wrong with you. Now, you just don’t want to do it. You just don’t like it. It makes you uncomfortable. And instead of us trying to turn that around on you, why are you uncomfortable with it? We’re just going to say it’s OK. You get to have that preference.
S1: So I think that’s so useful because I think where that letter writer was kind of spiraling was the sense of like, I don’t know, I read somewhere that sex that remind someone of rape can be a negative trigger and then maybe you need to recreate it. And this idea is like maybe there’s other therapeutic work you could be doing instead where you would never want to enact a rape fantasy. And it’s just like. Don’t try to make therapy, do the work of sex, and don’t try to make sex, do the work of therapy is, I think, a generally good rule of thumb, which is not to say you can’t have a fun sexual scenario where you you know, you do evil therapist or whatever. I just mean, like, let the work that each of them can do stand on its own. So based on what you’ve described, your letter writer, my guess is if you two ever do, like, engage in BDM at one another, she wants you to be either, like aggressive or dominant or running the scene or topping her or some combination of the above. And so, again, there I think I wonder if what you’ve been doing is like some of it makes me uncomfortable. I’m not sure about how to establish, like, ethics of care here. I’m not sure how to think about my own desires without some guilt, which is not uncommon for a topping. I think, for someone to feel like if I want, you know, it’s OK to like have like submissive or masochistic desires because, you know, you’re OK with it. But if I have this desire, does that mean I’m secretly a monster? Does that mean I’m actually a bad person? Does that mean that doing the things that feel good to me with the consent of my partner are in fact, like fraudulent? So I would say it seems like there’s some questions, vulnerability, uncertainty there that makes a ton of sense. Talk to your girlfriend about it. You know, it does not ruin the sort of experience of, like running a scene for somebody. If you acknowledge, like I’m a human being with needs and vulnerabilities and insecurities and imperfections of my own, I’m going to need to figure out like what kind of check in I need before and after how I’m going to satisfy for myself that I know that not only are you OK with what’s happening in a scene, but that I can kind of trust that you’re really able to access, you know, your inner limits, because there’s also and that’s not to say like, I don’t really believe you when you say yes or no, but like in in the intensity of a scene, it can sometimes be challenging to say, like, where are you right now? How how connected are you to your body? Like, how easily are you able to access your know? So all of that makes sense. Whatever limits you need to talk about, whatever stuff you need to say, if I’m not sure about something, I want to air on the side of waiting or seeking advice or not doing it at all together. All of that’s great. You do not have to make it about you’ve got to go solve the problem of your past rape before we can safely talk about BDM.
S3: And in fact, I would say keep those really separate. Right. Because, like, the one thing in this letter that I do understand his concern about is, is the contact with the abusive ex. And that I would say, again, keep that really specific and really separate. That is not oh, my God, you’re so traumatized. You don’t know what you’re doing. That is not I don’t like the BDM. Is it because you’re talking to this ex? That is can we talk about what are you getting out of talking to your ex? What is it that feels good about talking to this person? Does it feel good or do you just have a hard time? Like, what is it? Because that I think that’s a that’s the thing in this letter that I actually think is the nugget of the problem, and it’s it it’s really hard because you are the partner and there is a way for you to as you sow, as you note in the letter. Right. Sound jealous. And there is also a real reason to be sort of concerned me like you are. You’ve said this person was physically abusive and that it was hard to leave. And so, you know. And again, you know, not to fix her or not to whatever, but like, I don’t think you’re entirely wrong to express concern about that one. I just think you’re loading a lot on its back.
S1: Yeah, yeah. I think literally your concerns here make a lot of sense to I would probably share them in your position. And I think one thing that is good is that she is sharing this with you. You know, that means at least she wants to talk to somebody else about it. You know, you say. You know, it worries you, of course it worries you on his end, that makes sense again, like he was physically abusive and it does not sound like, you know, years have passed. He’s made huge amends. He’s completely turned his life around and demonstrated an ability to, like, keep his distance and never harm anybody else in the same way and et cetera, et cetera. So it seems like part of the concern here is he’s just like turning back around and acting like nothing’s happened. That makes sense. I also don’t think highly of this guy. I don’t think well of his motives
S3: and not just because he was into GameStop.
S1: Yeah, you’re worried about her. Again, that makes sense as a logistical concern. You know, again, probably probably it does have something to do with a relationship to self-preservation or a relationship to her own sense of self. I don’t want to say like it’s OK. I just want to say, like, I don’t think you need to treat it as this. Like shocking. Like getting out of an abusive pattern with your abuser is really hard. It takes a lot of attempts for the most part. So when somebody. I would encourage you to think of it the way that we often talk about like quitting smoking or quitting nicotine, which is like not always, but often it takes multiple attempts. And something that doesn’t usually help people to quit is shame or shock or like, why didn’t you just quit at the first time? That tends to make people want to keep it a secret. That tends to make them ashamed. They want to self soothe that shame. They want to go through it by going back to the thing that they know is familiar. So I would just say, you know. Talk about it with her and say something like, I’m really glad you’ve been telling me about this, even though it makes me worry because I’m relieved that you want other people in your life to know about this. I do worry about your safety. I also know that a lot of your partners have tried to control you in the past. And so I do want to express my concern. I do think that it’s it’s risky. But I also understand that this is your choice. And so I simply ask I hope that you will give some thought to what limits you do maybe want to set with him and that you will keep another friend or two informed. Again, you have to report to us when he gets in touch with you. This is just a choice that you can make. But I do hope that you will share this with another friend or two. So you have support that’s not just coming from me. And then also maybe some of those questions like what do you get out of it? And it may be that she feels like, you know, part of me feels sad and ashamed about the abusiveness of our relationship. And part of me wishes we could just be friends so I could even just mentally salvage some of it. And I could think, well, ended up OK. You know, we ended up being able to speak well of each other. We ended up being friendly. And that feels better than thinking of him as my abusive ex. I don’t want to put words in her mouth. That might not be what she’s thinking or feeling. She might feel scared not to text him back. She may give you a number of different answers, but I do. I think it’s important to try to think about somebody’s contact with an abusive ex that’s not just like, oh, they must be weak and afraid. And to try to think about what might they be getting out of it that I could relate to, that doesn’t make it necessarily a good idea. But where you can see, like, yeah, she gets something out of it that, like, contributes to a sense of self and safety and hope for the future and like restored human relationships, that doesn’t actually get to the heart of it. But, God, I would want that to in her position.
S3: Right. Right. Exactly. And I think that’s a really if you can come to that conversation from a place of not treating her as broken and in need of fixing, but as a person who is making decisions that you may not understand.
S1: Yeah, I know we could probably spend the whole episode on this letter. And so I will probably try to wrap my end up. But I’ll just say as a couple of closing thoughts, a 46 year old in the 32 year old dating are not the same thing as an adult and a minor dating. So in that sense, like they are not connected to her, her past harm as a child. I also just think, like. O’Doul, age gap relationships, it’s like, what good would it do you if someone could say, like, yeah, actually 70 percent of her attraction to you based on this age gap comes from past traumas like what would you do with that information? You know, I mean, like. OK, there’s no control group version of her that hasn’t been through these traumatizing experiences, so I think you can just be such a waste of time to be like, well, what might she have liked if she hadn’t experienced that kind of like harm and sexual abuse as a teenager and young person is like, no way to know this is the only version of her that exists. This is her now. She comes with her baggage. She comes with her experiences. Some of it involves trauma. Some of it involves other things. This is it. You want to go out with her or don’t you?
S3: Yeah. And again, right. Like the first letter, it is totally OK. If the answer to that is I don’t you’re allowed to break up with someone, you’re allowed to break up with them because you’re not into kink. You’re allowed to break up with them because you don’t like the way they handle problems. You’re allowed to break up with them because you don’t like the shape of their nose.
S1: But if you like, if you really like you know, you say you talked for 12 hours on your first day, you’re pretty nuts about her. You really you get along great. You love each other’s company. The two of you are bringing a lot of wonderful new things into each other’s lives. You think she’s hot, she thinks you’re hot. If you’re just like, oh, well, you know, like what if Tina Fey and Amy Poehler ever did, like, a cutting edge SNL sketch about how guys sometimes date younger women, then I’d feel self-conscious. That’s probably bad. Maybe it’s because of her trauma. Maybe other people would like. I feel like that was some of what it was coming from. Like, he actually enjoys dating a 32 year old. She’s a babe. He’s into her. But then it’s like, oh, but maybe it’s bad and it’s just like you got to own it. Man, you’ve been with this woman for ten months. Either you’re proud of her and you’re into her and you like her whole deal and you think it’s hot or you think it’s something that you’re getting away with, that you shouldn’t be, that you’re probably just preying on a traumatized, confused person who doesn’t realize you’re not allowed to like someone fourteen years older than you when you’re in your 30s. Like, I would I would really discourage you from getting into that kind of like a. sex mindset, especially because when you begin to believe that your partner’s appreciation of or attraction to you is something you’re supposed to be ashamed of in public or that’s probably rooted in abuse and trauma, you will eventually probably start to treat them like you are ashamed of them. And that is not a good thing to do. So the fact that you have a hot, slightly younger girlfriend who’s got a lot going on emotionally and, you know, as long as you’re going to stay together, treat that with respect, be proud of her age, be proud of her experience, be proud of her whole deal, treat her well. If you don’t want to keep going out, you’re also allowed to to break up, be as nice as you can in the breakup. That, by the way, like that is I think one of my biggest personal transformations is going from very like, yeah, haha. Meet your second wife. She would have been younger when he was born and now they’re both adults. Isn’t that funny. And now on the other side of being a being a transsexual who loves a lot of other transsexuals, I’m just very like. Great, you’re both adults, you should have a great time dating a 32 year old, she sounds fun.
S3: Yeah, I yeah. I mean, you’re adults. You’re allowed to be adults at some point. I always you know, when I was younger, I was waiting for that point when I would like be an adult and, like, feel grown up and like I’m 40 now and I still don’t feel grown up. So I just, you know, it’s all whatever at this point.
S1: I’m also still really hoping that one of these days, like Victor Garber picks me up and it’s just like you’ll be one of my kept boys. I’m like, thank you for calling me a boy. I’m 34. But like, yeah, you know, I think Victor Garber is a very handsome man. And I would really enjoy, I don’t know, being being one of his I don’t know who those guys would announce people. When you were in a drawing room. Footmen, I’d be a footman.
S3: Butman There you go. Yeah, I support this life choice category.
S1: I forgot the word footman. All right. Every reader, Georgette, higher novels on my phone, but here we are. OK, this is ridiculous. We need to move on. Would you read our next letter?
S3: Oh, goodness. OK, I get to read this. I don’t even know what to do with this one subject faking it. Dear Prudence, when I was six years old, I idolized my best friend. She had hearing aids, which I thought were incredibly cool. I also wanted hearing aids. So I intentionally failed the school hearing test in the hope that I would get them. Instead, I was referred to an audiologist who misdiagnosed me with a congenital disease. She told my parents it would cause me to slowly but completely lose my hearing before adulthood. They were devastated. I was bewildered, but kept things up for fear of being caught in a lie. I had to continue seeing the audiologist, as well as a medical specialist for monitoring throughout my youth. And I kept faking it. The snowball was rolling. I never made it seem to get any worse. So I’m now in my mid 40s. I obviously have stopped seeking any treatment, but I have to lie to my mother every few years. When she inquires about any changes in the status of my hearing, I usually just say no and change the subject. Should I take any action here? I think if I came clean, my mother would be much, much more upset than she currently is thinking that I’ve plateaued at a totally manageable level of hearing loss. I don’t really know that anyone would benefit from me coming clean here,
S1: so I’ll try to get this one really short. I felt like the key to this one is like. This is not something where you have, like, positioned yourself as like the leader of any kind of community or like tried to make yourself out to be like. A spokesperson on behalf of deaf and hard of hearing communities. This is a lie pretty much just kept up with your parents when you were a little kid. So my read here is like, absolutely, you have my permission to keep, like, embarrassingly lying about it every three or four years, make a donation to some organization that works for, you know, kids who use hearing aids or who deal with a condition you were misdiagnosed with, lied to your mom until she dies and just be like, yeah, nuts about how that just, like, went OK for me. That’s my take, you know, 12 Hail Marys, a couple of hundred bucks every year, that’s it.
S3: I like your absolution practice here. Yeah, I really don’t know. Yeah. I mean, I do spend, like, a minute trying to imagine, like, keeping up the lie throughout your youth, like, but, you know, whatever, you know, it’s it’s. Yeah. I can’t see how it’s really hurting anybody. I mean I suppose you can ask your mom like mom does this really keep you up at night. I’m okay.
S1: Yeah. I have a real soft spot for like I panicked and told a bananas lie at sex because I thought someone was cool and then I just didn’t know what to do. So I thought I’d commit to it until I was in my 40s. Now that that is something we should all be emulating. But boy, do I really. My heart beats in kinship with that heart because I can really imagine myself being like, wow, my best friend is so cool. I’m going to lie to a doctor. And then at like 20 and 30, being like, I’m in too deep. I’m intuitive, but I don’t want to make this worse. So yeah, I also think you might get some relief from telling your mom and just saying, like, this is going to sound absolutely bananas. I lied when I was six and I did not know how to tell you. It’s taking a very, very long time. This is my big lie. I think even if it was embarrassing, you would at least have the relief of not having to do that lie every three years. But, you know, you think she’d be much more upset. You don’t know. She might be upset and then it might eventually be kind of a funny story. She might be upset and then it would just eventually recede into like, boy, that was weird. But then, you know, that was twenty, you know, like twenty years from now, I don’t think it would still be the biggest thing. Maybe it would. I don’t know. It depends on how many times she drove you to the doctor when you were little.
S3: Yeah. Depends on how much they spent, like, oh goodness, I can go down a real rabbit hole and be like how much that cost? Like, health insurance is expensive, like all of these things. But yeah, I mean, it’s probably fine. I think if you had mentioned, like my parents, you know, trust me, around the country, spending money they didn’t have on really expensive specialists, you probably would have told us that.
S1: Yeah, I think so, too. And I think if you don’t tell her, there will probably always be a part of you that feels a sense of alienation and slight guilt. You have to weigh that against the possibility that she would be very, very, very hurt. If you do tell her and she is very hurt, at least you’ll know the extent of it and you’ll be able to try to make amends. So that’s one advantage. The downside will be it will be embarrassing and she might be really sad. I both really understand why she would be hurt. And I also really understand that you were six and you grew up with this lie. And so I think that’s one of the things that’s hard to assess, is like if you grew up on the foundation of a lie, you told that sex, it can be a little bit harder to kind of come to it with, like, adult eyes and be like, oh, don’t do that. That’s harder than it needs to be. So I don’t say that. It’s like you could never have done anything different starting in your twenties. Just it’s hard, I feel for you. This is not the only thing you’ve ever done with your life. Give money to an organization until you feel a little better. When you’re when you’re like right on that line and you’re in your conscience, it’s like give so much money that you’re like, oh, am I really going to give that much money this month? And then you’ll feel bad about that, but good about having done something useful. So that is it, we have yelled at a couple of people, this was a great episode for me, wanting to get on a moral high horse, I really got my fill of that anyway. Sarah, you’re a wonder and a delight. Thank you so, so much for coming on the show and helping to bring me back to Earth.
S3: Thank you so much for having me to yell at landlords. My favorite thing. Thanks for listening to Dear Prudence,
S1: our producer is Phil Cercas. Our theme music was composed by Robin Hilton. Don’t miss an episode of the show
S3: had to slate dotcom. Dear Prudence,
S1: to subscribe and remember, you can always hear more prudence by joining Slate. Plus go to Slate dotcom slash pretty partit to sign up. If you want me to answer your question, call me and leave a message for zero one three seven one, dear. That’s three three two seven. And you might hear your answer on an episode of the show.
S3: You don’t have to use your real
S1: name or location and at your request we can even alter the sound of your voice. Keep it short. Thirty seconds a minute, tops. Thanks for listening. Oh. And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday. One of my favorite things historically has been if I come back from a walk and I get into the shower right away, you should know that means that I was crying and didn’t want you to see. And so if you don’t intuit that, when I walk in the door and head straight for the shower, that something’s up and you’re in trouble and you should feel bad. You don’t care about me at all. And it’s just like, oh, that is a as a wild thing to assume that somebody else would into it. That’s genuinely bonkers that you think anyone’s going to pick up on that and read your your magical little code, you sad, weird shower cry or you should find a different strategy for living. And eventually I did. To listen to the rest of that conversation joined Slate plus now at Slate dot com forward slash Prudy Pod.